Supreme Court Holds That Google’s Copying of Java Software Constitutes “Fair Use”: Reversing the Federal Circuit, Supreme Court Holds That Google’s “Limited Copying” of Java SE Was a Transformative Fair Use

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP - April 6, 2021

On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court, in Google v. Oracle America, held that Google’s copying of the Java SE API constituted fair use of copyrighted material, reversing the Federal Circuit. Assuming without deciding that the Java SE API software was copyrightable, the Supreme Court held that: (a) whether the copying at issue was fair use is a question of law for the courts; and (b) Google’s copying constituted fair use under the statutory four-factor test because (i) Google copied only “declaring” code and not the “implementing” code for the Java SE API, (ii) Google’s use was a transformative reimplementation of Java SE, (iii) Google did not copy a substantial amount of the Java SE API, and (iv) Google’s copying created a new mobile operating system market that benefitted the public and that the Java SE copyright owner might not have been able to exploit.

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